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  1. Nombre y apellido del alumno Bert Amsing
  2. Fecha May 10, 2016
  3. Título del texto leído René Padilla – La Palabra Interpretada

Reflexiones Sobre Hermenéutica Contextual

  1. ¿De qué trata el artículo o capítulo leído?

René Padilla, in his book La Palabra Interpretada, gives us some reflections about Contextual Hermeneutics.  He compares traditional hermeneutics with contextual hermeneutics and talks specifically about the need to “acercar” contextually to the text of Scripture.  He also clarifies what he means by the Hermeneutical Circle and describes the various parts of that process.

  1. ¿Cuál es la idea central del autor?

The central idea of the author is that the context for interpreting the Scriptures needs to be just as much about the contemporary situation as the historical context of the text itself.  In his own words he says, “En el acercamiento contextual se pone énfasis tanto en el antiguo texto como en el contexto del lector moderno (p.11).”  For that reason, the hermeneutical circle includes the historical-cultural context of the interpreter just as much as that of the Scriptures.  That includes the worldview and theology of the interpreter as well.

  1. ¿De qué nos quiere convencer?

The author wants to convince us that hermeneutics is essentially a dialogue.  In his own words, he says, “La hermenéutica tiene que ver con el diálogo entre las Escrituras y el contexto histórico contemporáneo (p.13).”  If it is a dialogue, then our present situation also needs to be interpreted and questions need to be formulated so that we come to the Scriptures with a need which must be satisfied in order for us to change our situations today.  He goes on to say that “su propósito es trasponer el mensaje bíblico desde su contexto original a una situación contemporánea (p.13).”  All of this is based on the fundamental belief that God still speaks today.  He says, “su presupuesto básico es que el Dios que habló en el pasado y cuya Palabra ha sido registrada en la Biblia continúa hablando hoy en día a través de la Escritura a toda la humanidad (p.13).”

  1. ¿Cuáles son los puntos fuertes y los puntos débiles del texto?

The general idea that hermeneutics is a dialogue between the interpreter and the Scriptural text is generally good and describes what actually happens in the real process of interpreting the Word of God.  Also, there is no doubt that the purpose of interpretation is to make the Word of God relevant to contemporary society and there is no doubt that God still speaks today through his Word.  All of that is good and well but there seems to be a confusion of terms and concepts that muddies the waters and makes this proposal difficult to understand and ultimately untenable.

Yes, there is a “docetic” process “from below” that happens when we first come to the Scriptures, in which we ask God questions and interpret his replies through the text of Scripture.  We come with our felt needs but, for some strange reason, we leave with a clearer idea of our real needs.  René Padilla also recognizes this as part of the process although he doesn’t start with it.  He says, “Al recibir las respuestas de las Escrituras es posible que las preguntas iniciales surgidas de nuestra situación tengan que ser reformuladas.  El contexto de la teología incluye, por lo tanto, no sólo preguntas especificas que la situación hace al texto, sino también preguntas que el texto hace a la situación (p.18).”

The question is where we start from.  What is the starting point for our interpretation of Scripture?  In the real world, we may start with our own questions in terms of our learning process but the purpose of the process of interpreting the Bible is to allow God to ask his questions of us in our situation.  There is an “analogy of being” here between us and the original audience in terms of our spirituality (or lack of it).  That “analogy” or continuity allows God to speak in one historical-cultural context and it will be heard loud and clear in our contemporary historical-cultural context because there is a meta-context between the two situations that is spiritual-relational.  That is the starting point.  That is the Biblical worldview at its core.  That is what changes people and changed people change society and situations and problems are dealt with in the real world of our modern age.

When the Pharisees asked Jesus a question from their point of view, he would change the perspective and look at the situation from the divine point of view and his answer would change people who then change situations.  “Who is our neighbor?” they asked.  “Who is a neighbor?” he answered.  Exactly.  We can come to the Scriptures with all of our “felt needs” but if we are quiet and listen attentively we will walk away with the answers to our “real needs.”  Yes, it is a dialogue because God in his grace allows us to ask questions before he tells us what we should really be asking him.  But it is also not like a dialogue because the Bible is the self-revelation of God through his redemptive-historical actions in history and his own interpretation and revelation of those actions through his word.  It is a dialogue by grace but there is one who teaches and another who learns.

This is the great weakness of the approach that René Padilla offers to us in Contextual Hermeneutics.  He starts at the wrong place and his suggestion that “it is possible” that the text may force us to reformulate our questions is not strong enough in my opinion.  It is not just possible, it is a foregone conclusion since the Word of God comes to condemn us as well as save us.  It condemns us for our sin and rebellion and saves us from ourselves, from our sins.  The Bible interprets us.  God proclaims his interpretation of our rebellion against his claims to be the Creator and King over all things.  It is his hermeneutic of us and his solution to our real problems that heals us and guides us in bringing his healing (from the inside out) into the historical-cultural situations of our contemporary lives.

Furthermore, René Padilla claims that objectivity may be achieved but neutrality is not even desired.  He says, “A menos que la objetividad sea un objetivo, todo el proceso interpretativo está condenado al fracaso desde su comienzo.  La objetividad, sin embargo, no debe confundirse con la neutralidad…..leerla desde la perspectiva de la fe (p. 15).”  Although there is still some doubt that any of us can achieve real objectivity, we can at least be aware of our presuppositions and worldview as much as possible precisely because we are not neutral.  We come to the Scriptures from the point of view of faith.  René Padilla clearly distinguishes his approach from a secular-critical point of view and keeps the discussion firmly within the confines of those who approach the Bible from a position of faith.

But that faith must have some content in order for it to be useful as a theological context for the process of interpretation.  At the very least, faith must include a position of humility before the Word of God as the significant self-revelation of the God who is there and speaks to us from the mountain and the cross.  That position of humility, doctrinally, will include a statement about the inerrancy and inspiration of the Word of God which in turn then tells us to take seriously what the Bible says about historical events such as the miracles, resurrection and the person and work of Jesus Christ.  To “objectify” the Word of God as something to which we must submit our own “subjectivity”  means that we need to allow the Word of God to speak to us first of all.  If we listen carefully, we have to come to certain conclusions.  For example, if God is the ultimate author, then the Word of God has a fundamental unity and Scripture must be allowed to interpret Scripture.  If God used men in their historical-linguistic-cultural context, then the Word also has a fundamental diversity and a grammatico-historical approach to interpretation must be part of the process.  Unity in message.  Diversity in communication.

If that is so, then we already have a dogmatic-doctrinal position about the text that comes from a close listening to the message without a bias against the supernatural and allowing the Scriptures to interpret itself.  Starting at that point allows us to “hear” God through the Scriptures and not impose our own questions, issues, pre-suppositions and felt needs on the text.  Starting with that beginning point (which we can call “Sola Scriptura”), we have now defined our basic hermeneutical approach which allows the text to interpret itself within it’s essential unity but also within it’s essential diversity.  That is a different starting point from the Contextual Hermeneutics that is suggested by René Padilla.

Perhaps it is a problem of definitions.  René Padilla rightly says that “el entendimiento y la apropiación del mensaje bíblico, son dos aspectos de un todo indivisible: la comprensión de la Palabra de Dios (p.15).”  He assumes that this comprehension of the Word of God is part of the process of interpreting the Word of God.  If hermeneutics is a dialogue between us and the Word of God enlightened by the Holy Spirit then hermeneutics is interpretation and comprehension (understood and appropriated/obeyed).  Barth would agree that “revelation” happens in us and is not merely doctrine without praxis (“the Bible becomes the Word of God in our experience.”).  The idea is correct but the language is confusing (in both Barth and Padilla).  After all, sin has to be taken into account.  Obviously, the ideal situation is that God speaks and we automatically listen, understand and obey in love with gratitude.  We can even ask questions, once we are in relation to him through Jesus Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit, in order to know how to build His Kingdom here on earth.  No doubt.  But where is sin in this whole process.  Is it just in our blindness to our pre-suppositions and commitment to our ungodly worldviews or is there a problem with the process of communication itself?  If so, it would affect our process of interpretation, wouldn’t it?

The Bible is the revealed Word of God whether we understand it and apply it or not.  Jesus is Savior and King, seated at the right hand of God, whether we acknowledge it or not.  There is an interpretation of Scripture that can be written down, systematized, dogmatized and still be true (or not) whether or not we understand it or apply it.  There is an “objective” reality to the Word of God and theology is the study of that Word of God.  Obviously, without understanding and application it remains a “dead” (but true) Word for us but that doesn’t change the nature of the Word of God as something “other” than our subjective assimilation of it.  On the other hand, what good is a “dead” (but true) Word to us who so desperately need the living Word of God to speak to our situation.  But our need does not change the nature of the Word of God which in turn dictates its own interpretation.

So, yes, we need the Holy Spirit, in the context of our faith in the inerrancy and inspiration of the Word of God, in order to come humbly to the text aware of our own ungodly worldview and presuppositions and listen first (so that we can come into a new relationship with God through Christ empowered by the Holy Spirit), then in obedience to ask and dialogue.  The problem with much of the contextual hermeneutic movement (even among Evangelicals) is that it leads to all sorts of “theologies” that starts with situations and questions and looks for answers before listening to the fundamental, real need of each human being that all of the social changes in the world won’t make up for.  What good is it to enter the promised land without God? (Exodus 33:15)

  1. ¿Qué aspectos no entendí? o sobre cuales aspectos tengo más preguntas?

Obviously, if I want to interpret René Padilla´s thinking on contextual hermeneutics, I would want to have a better and wider context for his ideas (by reading more of his writing) and enter into a dialogue with him.

  • I would want to start by listening carefully, aware of my presuppositions, theology/doctrine and worldview, and try to understand what he wants to say.
  • Then I would put his approach into a historical-cultural-academic context to understand what his presuppositions, theology/doctrine and worldview are and find points of convergence and divergence with my own.
  • I would try to summarize, synthesize and contextualize his contribution within the broader theological and academic debates about hermeneutics-homiletics (and the indicative-imperative debate in our circles, for example).
  • Then I would want to ask clarification questions as well as “going deeper” questions and enter into a dialogue for better understanding of his position (and my position as over and against his, if necessary).
  • THEN I would look for application points (just like the flow of your questions on this sheet where application comes after understanding) where I could apply what I have learnt (integrating his thoughts with mine whenever possible as we both attempt to allow Scripture to speak for itself).

In terms of application of the truth of Scripture, it is at this point that we need to ask questions and find a point of contact with contemporary culture and situations.  Whether it be the existential questions of Tillich or the materialistic and economic issues of the middle class or the social justice issues of the poor, we need to be attentive to the questions that the people ask because God in his grace allows us to come initially with our felt needs and responds accordingly.  At the same time, he will bring us “further in and further back” so that we can “realize” our true status before God and the true source of our problems and what God has done to save us from our sins.  Whether the questions come as a point of contact in the process of evangelism or a point of discussion in the process of apologetics or a point of ministry in the process of sanctification, they are all points of departure for those who are already deeply rooted in the indicative-resurrection life of Christ and are compelled to live it out as a loving imperative in every area of their lives.

One of the big differences between René Padilla and the Scriptures is that I do not come to his text from a position of faith and obedience.  He is a fellow Christian like myself who is also subject to the sinful “noetic” effects of the fall from grace.  Respect is due but not allegiance.  In addition, he does not claim to make statements of appeal to all of humanity to solve the problems of the world.  The purpose of his writing is other than that.  The purpose of the Bible is often claimed to be exactly that – to be God’s word spoken into the sinful situations of the world that need to come under the kingdom (and kingship) of Jesus Christ.

At that point, I would say that the Bible as wisdom literature for a world in crisis is similar (in terms of genre) to other religious texts.  But that is exactly the problem.  That is not the primary purpose of the Word of God.  The primary purpose is to bring people (not social situations first of all) under the kingship of Jesus Christ and THEN because they are committed to a covenant relationship with God through Jesus Christ empowered by the Spirit they are NOW in a position to speak to and change particular situations empowered as a social unit (the ecclesia) to work as “leaven” in a sinful world.  This approach recognizes that God’s main solution to the problems of man is to change the heart of man first of all rather than social situations (however unjust or morally demanding).

I would be interested to talk further with René Padilla about his presuppositions with respect to the Word of God and its purpose in the world.  The “praxis” of God may revolve around a different “axis” than our own.  It may want to deal with sin in relational terms before it deals with our ethics and morality (the indicative before the imperative, irreversible but also inseparable).  There is more than one approach that can accomplish the clear necessity of bringing the Word of God to bear on contemporary people and culture.  The question is whether or not we will do it the way God, through the Scriptures, says he wants to do it and “plug in” to his anointing and power to get it done.

Obviously, I have a theological/doctrinal context that comes to bear as I enter the hermeneutical process of trying to understand the Word of God.  So does René Padilla.  That isn’t a problem.  It’s an opportunity to discuss with each other our theological/doctrinal presuppositions about the Word of God to see whether they reflect what the Scriptures say about itself (a position of faith in the Word of God as inerrant and inspired to which both of us agree).  If we didn’t have that same basic approach to Scripture which guides and informs our dialogue about our presuppositions and theology/doctrine, then it would be a very different type of conversation (which may still be of some benefit but would, by definition, be more a question of differentiation than similarities).

This is the approach I would take for all of the readings for this course, all the while trying to understand my own position of faith towards God and his Word better as well as learning how to have an appropriate dialogue with other points of view that do not share that same foundational approach.  I wish that there was more time to go deeper with each author and “reading” but, in the meantime, I have a few other questions for Mr. Padilla.

I would be especially interested to read/hear René Padilla’s critique of the Sola Scriptura and Redemptive Historical approach to hermeneutics (which includes an exemplary based applicatory homiletics (continuity of experience) within a redemptive-historical context (diversity/distinction of purpose)).

One of the problems that we always face is the definition of terms.  If we define hermeneutics as interpretation of the text as understood and applied in obedience, so far so good.  But, then, where is homiletics?  Even there, we have an overlap of definitions.  Material homiletics is about “getting the message” from the Word and formal homiletics is about “communicating the message” to the world in various forms and ways.  Where does hermeneutics end and homiletics begin?

René Padilla does not make any distinction between the two but groups them all into one general definition of interpretation.  That is where much of the confusion lies.  In addition, if we understand formal homiletics in terms of “kerygma” (without Bultmann) rather than merely “preaching,” it would also probably enter into René Padilla’s definition of hermeneutics.  With those clarifications, I can live with his definitions.

The problem lies in the relationship between the two.  By making it a dialogue with both starting points of equal value, there is more than a confusion of definitions.  There is a confusion of priorities (and theology/doctrine) and approach to Scripture that is foundational to what Scripture says about itself.  I wonder how his obvious commitment to the Word of God as inerrant and inspired fits with his “unusual” starting point outside of the Word of God.  It seems counter-intuitive at the very least.

Is there a way to maintain the concept of dialogue and maintain a definition of interpretation that includes assimilation (or comprehension) by factoring in the problem of sin and the need for humility and loving obedience as the proper context for understanding and “having” the mind of Christ that declares, “my bread is to do the Father’s will?”  Yes, I believe so but it must start with Scripture alone before it can speak to our spiritual and social situations.  Miracles cannot change the human heart and social solutions based on the wisdom of God cannot change a man (or even society in any permanent way).  Something deeper is needed first.  The indicative comes first, then the imperative necessarily must follow, but secondly, as an overflow of the first.  Otherwise, “what does it profit a man to gain the whole world but lose his very self” (Luke 9:25).

Listen first (to come into proper relationship-covenant with God both in terms of salvation and resurrection life on this earth) and then dialogue secondly (to come into proper obedience-morality/ethics in terms of how we should then live) to achieve the proper indicative-imperative priority so evident in the Word of God.

These are the things I would like to ask René Padilla in dialogue with him about these important questions of interpretation.

  1. ¿Cómo se puede aplicar el contenido a la tarea hermenéutica?

This approach to contextual hermeneutics seems to leave itself open to a concept of “theology” that is very “amplio” and not necessarily tied very closely to the Word of God.  In that case, theology is nothing more than the Bible’s answers to my questions.  Everyone can have his/her own theology.  There can be a feminist theology, a liberation theology, an apartheid theology (each adjective is a situation) rather than a covenant theology, a kingdom theology, a biblical theology (each adjective a biblical theme or an organizational principle).

It is easy to create “theologies” (the Bible’s answers to my questions) but not so easy to truly listen to the “self-revealing theology” of God or his hermeneutic/interpretation of us.  The Bible is already “kerygma” and must be recognized as such before it can become “kerygma” in our hearts and lives. That is the eschatological nature of the Bible as “already but not yet,” (already revealed/true but not yet fully understood or obeyed) and both aspects must be maintained in its proclamation in much the same way that it’s truth is “already but not yet” (already revealed/true but not fully understood or obeyed) in our hearts and lives.  What holds the two together is the Holy Spirit in his capacity of “revealing the revelation” of God in the hearts of men who is also the guarantee of the reality of the new relationship in Christ (2 Cor. 5:5).  It is the relationship we have with God “in Christ,” empowered by the Holy Spirit that holds the indicative and the imperative together and, in effect, guarantees that one will flow from the other as we strive to walk in the Spirit every day.

Although René Padilla talks of the “possibility” of the Bible interpreting us, it is, in effect, outside of our efforts or abilities to make happen.  It is almost “mystical” in the sense that it is God’s work of enlightenment through the Holy Spirit and as such is not within our control or part of “our” approach to hermeneutics.  We can be open to it, but not make it happen without the right heart/relational context and theological/doctrinal humility before the Word of God as it is proclaimed from the mountain and the cross.  Apparently, he doesn’t enlighten all men alike since there are so many “interpretations” (even conflicting ones) of the Word of God.  Something more is needed, some pre-requisite expected to come first, some indicative that must come before the imperative of our efforts.

Perhaps, as Scripture points out, spiritual enlightenment is only for those who live under the “indicative” of resurrection/ascension life and not under the “imperative” of their social/political reality and need.  The second is the approach of liberalism not evangelicalism.  More importantly, the first is God’s approach to hermeneutics which demands a faith rooted in the “indicative” of the “kerygma” assimilated and comprehended and obeyed first (spirituality/relationship), then with the help of the Holy Spirit, an enlightened understanding of how to apply and obey the Word of God (the “imperative”) in a particular situation will become clear within the context of the community of saints (ethics/morality).

One other point needs to be made about the “imperative” nature of the “kerygma” of God in Scripture.  Many people equate the “imperative” with the moral law of the OT together with the specific application nuances in the NT.  Often the “Decalogue” is considered to be the best summary of the moral law covering both the relational aspect towards God and man as well as the practical aspect of actual behavior.  We tend to think of morality and ethics in more abstract terms but the Scriptures make it clear that they are deeply rooted in our relationships with each other and God as a community of believers.

But obedience also has a motivational “skin” as well as a redemptive focus.  It is an obedience motivated by “love” and “gratitude” not by necessity or guilt and it has an evangelistic purpose.  As the proponents of attachment theory would point out, our ability to love as adults is rooted in our experience of strong, loving attachments in our early years.  The same is true for those who must now learn to love God above all, having been dead to him and now brought to life and learning to love him again.  The power of his covenant “attachment” to us (the indicative) is the healing power that teaches us in increasing measure to practice, and fail and practice again the loving obedience of his “imperative.”

If there was no difficulty with our loving obedience, the imperative would not be necessary but, as it is, the imperative of “obedience” teaches us to love again just as the “attachment” of the indicative provides a non-judgmental context for our feeble efforts.  It is a risk of love that God takes, but he also has an ace up his sleeve which is the Holy Spirit within us, made possible by the covering of the blood of the lamb which is the substitutionary atonement declared by God and accepted as sufficient payment for our sins.  That guarantee of love and power empowers our own “life ministry” of reconciliation through the way of the cross in confession, repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation.  He died so that we could learn to love the Father once again in the power of the Spirit.

Morality is a limit to our will but love is the freedom of the will.  In our present state of progressive sanctification, morality is the natural result of love but it takes the spiritual fellowship of the ecclesia to put it into practice progressively.  It is this “skin” and “focus” that holds the two sides of the indicative-imperative together, the order irreversible, the two, inseparable, the progress undeniable since it is the work and gift of the Holy Spirit as we respond, and struggle, and fail and start again as a community of saints on the march towards the New Jerusalem.

The imperative is not a support to the indicative (i.e. Catholic view) nor is it “side-by-side” with the indicative where the imperative proves the indicative (i.e. Fundamentalists-Arminean view), but rather the indicative expresses itself in the imperative in increasing measure, the imperative an effect of which the indicative is the cause, the imperative a response to the initiative of the indicative, (Phil.2:12,13), the two yoked together in an “ontological” union with Christ that creates an entirely new kind of being who can do nothing of himself but everything in union with Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit in loving obedience to the will and agenda of God.

Therefore, getting back to the main argument at hand, perhaps the best approach to the hermeneutic/interpretation process is to get out of the way so that our sin, presuppositions and disobedience do not tarnish the original and essential proclamation of the Word.  That approach maintains one original “self-revealed theology” of God that we must discover by starting with the Word of God and not create multiple “social-political theologies” of Man that we get by starting with our questions and problems (as legitimate as they may be).  They will best be answered within the right relational context as a second step.  The problem with mankind is not his situation/circumstances but his relationship (or lack thereof) with God through Christ empowered by the Holy Spirit.

So, in my opinion, this approach to hermeneutics leaves open the possibility of many different theologies that may or may not, to one degree or another, reflect the original “kerygma” of God.  In fact, they may find themselves in conflict with God.  If that is the case, then, before we can apply this approach to the task of hermeneutics, we must clarify our starting point.

With the proper starting point and a clarification of terms, we can focus on the assimilation of the “indicative kerygma” and then, within that relational/spiritual context address, as a community, the “imperative kerygma” of God’s Word applied to our particular situation.  The kingdom of God is first of all about our relationship with the king and, from that foundation, we bring the kingdom into the world once again by focusing on the kingship of Jesus in the hearts of people and then, as an ecclesia of called-out ones, we promote change in structures and relationships within the world.

After all, as anyone versed in the field of organizational development and the psychology of change can tell you, the problem is always the people.  It isn’t a question of what (or even why) but how?  And since intrinsic motivation is so difficult, extrinsic motivation using the “fear of loss” or “desire for gain” (the “carrot and stick” approach) is the most common and cost effective way of creating the necessary changes.  Force and obligation even in the service of the common good (as defined by those in power) has led to more corruption and evil in the world than almost anything else.

But intrinsic motivation rooted in a commitment to the will and agenda of God (which  often coincides with the good of the people even from a secular perspective) in the power of the Holy Spirit is a social force to be reckoned with.  Renewal can spill over into revival when the reality of God is seen in the lives of his people. Real change in society is the natural result of changed hearts.

But change can also happen without changed hearts.  Societal change can be effected with a broad based coalition of like-minded citizens seeking the same good, not just believers.  So, what is the difference?  Social change is its own temporal reward but a changed person lasts into eternity, defeating death by overcoming the true source of evil which is in the human heart.  Evil is, first of all, relational, not situational.

What that means is that, even with all of our social effort, we are called to a Redemptive Focus within a Creational Context and we are promised, by Jesus himself in word and example, that persecution and hardship are more likely than permanent success.  Still, it is our “imperative kerygma” creational-kingdom efforts that are a necessary apologetic/evangelistic context to our “indicative kerygma” that brings people into a saving relationship with God through Christ empowered by the Holy Spirit that no social/political situation can erase, change or affect in any negative way (Romans 8).  That is the true salvation of God that is available to us in the desert as we move towards the Promised Land.  Together with Moses, we declare that God is our Promised Land, even, and especially, in the desert (Exodus 33).  That is the true “kerygma” of God from the mountain and the cross.

In conclusion, René Padilla has helped me to clarify my own position regarding hermeneutics while at the same time opening a dialogue on the imperative of true comprehension and relevance in the contemporary world.  Let me finish with a few comments about some of his positive contributions to the hermeneutical debate.

First of all, in spite of his unclear definitions and false starting point, he reminds us that the goal of hermeneutics is to really reach our contemporary audience in a way that is relevant and effective.  No doubt.  The question is how to go about that.

Secondly, even though René Padilla does not start there, he does recognize that the Scriptures hold the power to interpret us.  He says, “cuanto  más profunda y rica sea nuestra comprensión del texto bíblico, tanto más profunda y rica será nuestra comprensión del contexto histórico (incluyendo los problemas que todavía tienen que encararse) y del significado de la obediencia cristiana en un contexto particular (p.18).”

Thirdly, he acknowledges the key role of evangelism as the redemptive focus to our obedience as critical to the process of the contextualization of the gospel in the contemporary world.  He says, “la fuerza motriz en la contextualización del Evangelio en tiempos apostólicos fue la obediencia al llamado de Dios a la misión por parte de la iglesia primitiva (p.16).”

Still, mistakes were made even in the first two centuries, not by the NT writers (who set the standard for contextualization by prioritizing the indicative as the context for the imperative) but by individual leaders in the Early Church who attempted to “hellenize” the gospel to make it more acceptable to Greek and Roman society.  God raised up others to provide a counter-balance and the debate has raged back and forth across the pages of history ever since.  An evangelistic motivation (the imperative) isn’t enough.  There must also be an evangelistic message (the indicative) that invades society and changes it from within much as the persecution of the Early Church resulted in a complete reversal in Roman society within three hundred years.  It wasn’t perfect, of course, but it wasn’t the hellenization of the message that caught the attention of the Roman people but rather the conviction and sacrifice of true believers living out the indicative of the gospel in the imperative of the Roman arena.  That has always been God’s “theodicy” (see the Book of Revelations) and will continue to be the manner in which he confronts evil and establishes his kingdom in the hearts of mankind.

Bert Amsing

Master’s Program – FIET